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CAD takes the wheel

CAD takes the wheel

Financial reports for the third quarter of 1997 weren't complete as of press time, but U.S. automakers had their most profitable second quarter ever this year. How did it happen? Not necessarily from higher prices. The answer is, improved efficiencies. And the news from Detroit is that those improvements will continue.

Among the surest signs of that are the decisions by Ford and Chrysler executives to standardize on separate computer-aided design packages for their respective engineering teams. In industries of all kinds, including the technology-leading automotive and aerospace industries, engineers using CAD and finite element analysis have made giant leaps in quality while cutting costs and cycle time. Standardizing on software throughout a company makes it all the easier to achieve those efficiency goals.

At Ford, the CAD software of choice is SDRC's I-DEAS Master Series, which the company officially adopted in 1995. Ford's intent is to have all suppliers using I-DEAS, as well as all Ford engineers. One supplier, Johnson Controls, reports that it already saved about 40% in time and development costs in redesign of a powertrack seating mechanism using I-DEAS. "We'll use I-DEAS in all aspects of digital prototype development for complete vehicles, which is key to achieving our Ford 2000 goals," says Richard Riff, manager of Ford's C3P (CAD/CAM/CAE/PIM) project office.

Chrysler has adopted IBM/Dassault Systemes' CATIA software. Chrysler engineers and their suppliers used CATIA in the redesign of the LH platform. Among the many advantages the software gave them: the ability to do more than 8,600 interference checks between sheet metal components in just 17 seconds. That kind of up-front quality check means the company has an excellent chance of detecting and fixing problems before the cars ever hit the showrooms and streets.

While General Motors hasn't standardized on a CAD package yet, it has looked at and used many. Among them: Parametric Technology Corp.'s Pro/ENGINE, a reusable process guide for Pro/ENGINEER that includes engine components and assemblies.

Car makers know that they can't rely on higher prices alone to succeed. That's why Ford, for example, began 1997 with the goal of cutting $1 billion in costs. Automotive News reports that cuts actually hit $1.8 billion in the first half of the year alone. Those, and other impressive cost reductions elsewhere at the Big Three, come from many different efforts, but CAD surely is among the most important.

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